Working as a researcher in a company vs university: Social Sciences

Working as a researcher in a company vs university: Social Sciences

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For graduates of the social sciences, there is a wide range of career possibilities open. For people who are curious, self-motivated, and capable of both good organisation and creative thinking, research can be an extremely rewarding career.

It is possible to go into research after completing an undergraduate degree or master's degree (typically employed as a research assistant or research worker), after a PhD (employed as a postdoc), or from a more senior position. But there is one big question to consider: would you rather work in an academic setting (that is, in a university structure) or in a business setting (that is, working for a company)? Today we're reviewing the points in favour of each setting, to help you decide where to focus your interest for your research career.

Advantages of working in a university

One of the great advantages of working in a university setting is the freedom to determine the direction of your own research. Once you are in a senior enough position that you are writing grant applications and managing others, then you are free to pursue whatever avenues of research seem interesting and worthwhile to you. As long as you are successful in securing funding, most universities will allow you complete freedom to choose the topics and methods for your research, and give you autonomy over the publishing process. 

Another advantage is the connection with students that is available in a university. If you are interested in teaching or supervising, there will be students who wish to learn from you. Many people find teaching to be a rewarding and engaging process, which gives the opportunity to broaden your own understanding and to help others.

Advantages of working in a company

On the other hand, there are distinct benefits to working in a company. The business world is more goal-driven and faster moving than academia, so if you are frustrated by the slow pace of universities and find the bureaucracy and paperwork too much for you, then business may be a good fit. The competitive aspect of business can be an excellent motivator for those who respond well to a challenging environment, as it encourages you to work quickly and in innovative ways so that you produce work which is unique from your competitors.

Another practical advantage of working in business rather than academia is that the pay is generally better, and benefits such as vacation time and health insurance may be better too. If you are looking for stable, long-term employment, and do not want the stress of having to find a new position and relocate every two years as some postdocs do, then a company is a safer choice. This is advantageous particularly for those with family or caring responsibilities, as you can find a position within a company which is long-term and offers good benefits.

Disadvantages of working in a university

As mentioned above, a disadvantage of working in a university is that some positions are only offered short-term (often for 2 years at a time), after which you may be expected to relocate to a new city or country. There is a general lack of job security for researchers; cuts to university funding can lead to researchers being laid off or not having their contracts renewed. However, this becomes less of a problem as you become more senior.

Disadvantages of working in a company

The fast pace and competitive environment in businesses which are advantageous to some may be off-putting to others. If you struggle with taking instruction about your research from a hierarchical system, and dislike the pragmatic compromises which are required to get work done quickly, then the business environment may not be for you. You are beholden to research the topics and methods which are demonstrably able to produce results which can be monetized, and which are approved of by your company. So there is a restriction on your freedom to pursue the research which most interests you.

We hope that this helps to illustrate the different options available to researchers. For the latest positions in both business and academia, check out jobs on INOMICS.